Sally was planning a big surprise party for Jim. Next week marked his tenth anniversary as a senior developer at Acme Software Company. Sally saw this as the perfect opportunity to recognize Jim. Jim was never in the spotlight and yet he was consistently a strong project team member. Sally was one year away from her fifth anniversary as a project manager with the company and she could not wait for her celebration!
The day of the party everything fell into place perfectly. Jim was completely unsuspecting as he walked into the weekly project team meeting. Then he saw the banners, the balloons, and the cake and heard a host of voices shouting ‘Congratulations Jim’. There were several people in the room, definitely more people than on the project team. Jim could not wait to make his exit. He was horribly embarrassed and left the room as soon as possible.
Sally was crushed by Jim’s reaction and truthfully a bit angry. She could not believe that Jim did not appreciate her efforts. After all, she would have loved it if the team had thrown her a surprise party.
What went wrong?
Sally like many of us, was using the golden rule. The golden rule is often expressed as ‘Do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you.’ The golden rule is recognized across many religions and cultures, and is also referred to as ‘The Ethics of Reciprocity’. It is an understatement to note that the golden rule is a terrific model for how to treat others.
Sometimes in leadership situations we need to go beyond the golden rule. We need to understand our team members and understand their motivators. Clearly this means getting to know and understand your team.
In this instance, all Sally needed was a simple amendment to the golden rule. Something along the lines of ‘treat others as THEY would like to be treated’.
By using this updated version of the golden rule, Sally would recognize that Jim is quiet and shuns the spotlight for a reason. She would learn more about Jim and see that he dislikes being the center of attention and is uncomfortable in big groups. A card or an email or low-key verbal recognition would have been just perfect for Jim.